Gangbé Brass Band – Jazz and Voodoo
Imagine… The sound of military brass bands, voodoo ritual chants and rhythms, scratchy American jazz records, with a dash of Fela’s Afrobeat, and you can almost hear Gangbé Brass Band…
Welcome the metal peace, share it with an iron will
Gangbé —which means “the sound of metal” referring to the trumpets, saxes, trombones, sousaphone (related to the tuba), and sometimes elaborate metal bell percussion— epitomizes the unlikely history so often found in Africa.
Once a prominent West African kingdom in the 15th century, Benin was colonized by the French in the late 1800s. The legacy of European brass bands is heard in many parts of Africa, and so is the legacy of vinyl that sailed from American jazz clubs.
Michelle Mercer wrote in Time Out NY, Gangbé’s “mambofied horn arrangements also recall that Cuban music was once the rock & roll of West Africa.”
In an effort to maintain traditional Beninese rhythms and share them with a wider audience Gangbé sought permission from voodoo priests and from their ancestors to use certain chants and rhythms. Furthermore, the band makes a point of singing in several languages indigenous to Benin including fon, ngou, mina, yoruba, évé, as well as French.
Benin shares a border with Nigeria and though many of the songs make an obvious connection to the legacy of Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti (listen to their tribute song “Remember Fela”), the happy tone of some of their tunes seems also to make reference to the juju sounds made popular worldwide by Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade, belying any perceived allegiance to a military or militant sound.
Their playfulness is front and center in their live performance. It will take a few minutes for audiences to readjust their eyes and ears to the bright colors of their traditional garb, the unexpected combinations of timbres, and the happy but serious playing. Adept listeners might catch familiar musical references, from New Orleans marching bands to Afrobeat riffs.
The juxtaposition of sounds of Gangbé Brass Band – at once hard-hitting and sweet, simultaneously mischievous and soulful—catches listeners off guard, making it hard for them to decide whether to stare in awe or step onto the dance floor. Either way, Gangbé conjures up a place and time that is both real and magical.
New Orleans and Lagos both seemed equally close to Benin when the Gangbé Brass Band made its euphoric New York debut. The band has the world in its grasp; its music leaps among the many ethnic traditions of it’s home, Benin, and beyond to Africa and the New Word’s African diasporas, segueing from traditional voodoo rhythms to jazz without missing a syncopated beat.
The New York Times
In the band’s dizzyingly gorgeous horn lines, rolling vamps carry sunny African chorales, and polyrhythmic voodoo grooves host harmonies that slide in all directions at once. The music just plain sings.
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